04. The Ashkenazic Custom: Men, Women, and Children

According to Ashkenazic custom, each member of a household must light his own candles in order to fulfill the custom of mehadrin min ha-mehadrin. That is, on the first night everyone lights one candle and on the eighth night everyone lights eight. We are not concerned that onlookers will not know how many candles are being lit on any given night, because we are careful to separate between the various menoras.[1]

Children who have reached the age of education – approximately the age of six, when they begin to understand the story of the miracle and the mitzva to light candles – light with a berakha.

The prevalent custom among married women is not to light Ĥanuka candles, because their husbands’ lighting it is considered like theirs, “one’s wife is like himself.” In many homes, young women and girls who have reached the age of education also do not light. Nevertheless, they may light with a berakha if they wish. It seems better to encourage young girls who have reached the age of education to light candles, at least until they become bat mitzva, as lighting Ĥanuka candles connects them to Torah and mitzvot. If they wish to continue lighting afterward, they should be commended. Even a woman whose husband lights candles may light her own candles, with a berakha, if she wishes, despite the custom to refrain from doing so.[2]


[1]. At first glance, if the custom of mehadrin is to light one candle for every member of the household each night, then the custom of mehadrin min ha-mehadrin requires one to light the number of candles corresponding to the current day of the holiday on behalf of each member of the household. This is Rambam’s opinion (mt, Laws of Ĥanuka 4:1-3), as well as the Ashkenazic custom. According to Rabbeinu Yitzĥak (Tosafot, Shabbat 21b), however, only one member of the house lights candles, since if everyone lights, onlookers will not know what day of Ĥanuka is being celebrated. This runs counter to the main objective of the custom of mehadrin min ha-mehadrin, which is to publicize the miracle based on the number of days it lasted. This is the Sephardic custom, as written in sa 671:22. (Ra’ah explains that doing it this way glorifies the miracle more than the custom of mehadrin does, because most households do not have that many members. Therefore, following this version of mehadrin min ha-mehadrin means that more candles will be lit. Furthermore, even if fewer candles will be lit this way, the mitzva is enhanced because people will come to know which day of Ĥanuka it is.) Many explain that the difference between the customs is based on where people used to light. Sephardim traditionally lit their candles near the entrance to their homes; therefore, if many members of the household would light there, onlookers would not be able to tell which day of Ĥanuka it was. Ashkenazim, on the other hand, were accustomed to lighting inside the house, so everyone was able to light their own candles. Darkhei Moshe 671:1 thus writes in the name of R. Avraham of Prague that, according to the custom of mehadrin min ha-mehadrin, everyone in the house must light his own candles when lighting indoors, even according to Tosafot.

According to Bi’ur Ha-Gra, the main reason the Gemara gives for Beit Hillel’s opinion is that we “ascend in holiness,” so there is no need to know which day of Ĥanuka it is; the main thing is to increase the number of candles. Thus, the Vilna Gaon dismisses Tosafot’s reasoning, indicating that even when everyone lights at the entrance, one should light according to the number of members of the household and the current day of the holiday.

Some infer from Rambam’s language that one person should light for everyone, but according to Ashkenazic custom, based on Maharil, everyone lights his own candles and recites his own berakhot. R. Naĥum Rabinovitch writes in Melumdei Milĥama (p. 232) that according to R. Yosef Qafiĥ’s edition of mt, it turns out that Ashkenazic custom is the same as Rambam’s opinion. Taz 677:1 and ma 677:9 explain that since the members of the household have no intention of fulfilling their obligation through the head of the household’s berakhot, they may recite the berakhot over their own candles. This implies that they would not be able to recite the berakhot otherwise, because one does not recite a berakha upon merely beautifying a mitzva. Sefat Emet (Shabbat 21b), however, postulates that from the very beginning, the Sages determined that those who follow the custom of mehadrin min ha-mehadrin should recite the berakhot, even though they have already fulfilled their minimal obligation. Another dispute involves one who lights a single candle, with a berakha, and later obtains enough candles to fulfill the mitzva according to the custom of mehadrin. Should he recite an additional berakha upon lighting the new candles or not? Eliya Rabba maintains that he should recite a berakha, but according to Pri Ĥadash §672 he should not recite a berakha; Responsa R. Akiva Eger 2:13 seems to lean toward that opinion, based on the implication of Taz and ma.

We must clarify whether the lighting of the head of a household absolves his family members of their obligation if they planned on lighting on their own but ended up not doing so. In my humble opinion, they have discharged their obligation, be-di’avad, because the minimal requirement to light one candle in the house was fulfilled. Therefore, whether they like it or not, the family members have fulfilled the mitzva at its simplest level. Their intention to refrain from discharging their obligation, in accordance with the words of Taz and ma, relates only to the effort to beautify the mitzva by lighting on their own with a berakha. Regarding the lighting itself, however, they discharge their obligation through the head of the household’s lighting. The matter still requires further study.

[2]. Many Aĥaronim cite the reason that “one’s wife is like himself,” including mb 671:9, 675:9 and Kaf Ha-ĥayim 671:16. Several reasons are given to explain why girls in some communities refrain from lighting. Ĥatam Sofer (Shabbat 21b) states that since people used to light outdoors, it was considered immodest for girls to go out and light. According to Mishmeret Shalom 48:2, it is improper for a daughter to light when her mother does not do so. Others explain that the reason minors light the candles is in order to train them to perform the mitzvot as adults, and since girls will not light when they grow older, because their husbands will light for them, they do not light when they are young either. (See Mikra’ei Kodesh [Frank] §14)

It they wish, they may light with a berakha, as mb 675:9 states. After all, Ashkenazic custom permits women to recite berakhot even over mitzvot from which they are exempt. Certainly, then, they may recite a berakha over lighting the Ĥanuka candles, which they are obligated to do. And since some single women and widows live alone, there is room to say that young women should become used to lighting candles, with a berakha, in their parents’ home. According to the predominant Sephardic custom, in which only one person in each household lights, girls should not recite a berakha if they wish to light.

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